With only three true exhibition games on their schedule, the Nationals aren't going to get much of an opportunity to build themselves up into regular season shape before opening night arrives July 23. They have to make the most of whatever game-like situations they can draw up in the meantime, such as today's four-inning intrasquad contest at Nationals Park.
"I don't feel like these guys are not going to be ready or not be prepared for what's to come," manager Davey Martinez said. "I think they're all going to be prepared. For me, it's quality, not quantity. I tell these guys: Get the most out of yourself in a short period of time, instead of spending six hours, seven hours just going through the motions."
Today's scrimmage saw Stephen Strasburg and Erick Fedde each throw three innings to live hitters. Strasburg totaled 52 pitches, according to Martinez, and emerged feeling good about the state of his arm. He's likely to top 60 pitches in his next start, five days from now, setting himself up to face the Orioles on July 20 at Camden Yards in his final tune-up before the season begins.
Fedde, meanwhile, pitched while still recovering from a bout of pink eye earlier in the week.
"He came out today, his eye was a little messed up," Martinez said. "But he came out, dealt with it and threw the ball really well, too."
Kurt Suzuki homered off Strasburg; Martinez joked the veteran catcher knows a thing or two about his batterymate's tendencies and may have taken advantage of that. Jake Noll homered off a Fedde changeup. Kyle Finnegan also pitched an inning of relief before the game was called.
It's not exactly the ideal way to prepare for a season that is fast approaching. Teams traditionally play a month's worth of exhibition games in Florida and Arizona, all against opposing clubs. They can't do that this year, so they're left to cobble it together as best as possible.
In addition to these intrasquad games and the three upcoming exhibitions (July 18 versus the Phillies before a home-and-home series with the Orioles on July 20-21), the Nationals are trying to give hitters time in a cage facing a pitching machine that throws with mid-90s velocity.
"We have to roll with the punches," right fielder Adam Eaton said. "We've got to be creative in how we can prepare. We've done more velo in the cages to get us ready. Just try to be as creative as possible. Seeing as few arms as we've ever seen in order to get ready. But everybody else has got to do the same thing. I think we look at it that way. We're under the fire and so is everyone else."
How will the coaching and front office staffs make roster decisions based on so few games? They'll have to trust their prior knowledge of everyone and trust that everyone did everything they could to prepare while on their own during the hiatus.
"A lot of it has to do with what we know about each individual player and what we feel like about the position they're in now," Martinez said. "We've got some veteran guys. They spent the last few months really staying ready and keeping themselves ready."
* Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced final results today from their intake screening program, plus the first batch of results from the ongoing in-season testing program. The results were encouraging, though still not as complete as most hoped.
According to the league and union, 1.8 percent of intake screening tests (66 of 3,748) came back positive for COVID-19. Of the 66 positive tests, 58 were players and eight were staff members. All told, 27 of 30 clubs had at least one positive test reported. (The Nationals had two, both players, who have been asymptomatic, according to club officials.)
Of the first 7,401 regular monitoring tests reported, 17 came back positive, a rate of 0.2 percent. Thirteen were players, with four staff members and a total of 10 clubs reporting at least one positive test. (The Nationals have not reported any positive tests from this round of screening.)
Though the 0.2 percent positive rate is encouraging news for the sport, two points provide important context: It will take another week or more to know if any of the players and staffers who have tested positive since reporting for summer training spread the virus to others, and most players and staffers are believed to have taken three or four rounds of monitoring tests since their initial intake screening. The total number of results reported today (7,401) matches up with only two rounds of tests, so there does appear to be a delay in reporting complete results beyond the 24 hours that were outlined in the league's extensive operations manual for this season.